No way to reclaim €72m if children’s hospital project fails

The taxpayer has no way of clawing back almost €72m in money spent on the national children’s hospital if the project falls at the planning permission hurdle again.

A Dáil public accounts committee meeting heard there is no safety net to protect the taxpayer from the potential financial hit.

National paediatric hospital development board project director, John Pollock, said he firmly believes the new planned location for the facility at St James’s Hospital means the Mater problems will not be repeated.

However, under questioning from Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesperson Sean Fleming and Labour TD Joe Costello, Mr Pollock and the project’s chair, Tom Costello, confirmed there was no way to protect the public against any possible €72m loss.

Since the drawn-out national children’s hospital plan began a decade ago, a massive €40m has been spent on the doomed Mater Hospital site — the majority of which cannot be retrieved.

A further €32m will be spent on the development of the St James’s Hospital location — which was selected after the Mater move was rejected by An Bord Pleanála — before it too undergoes a rigorous planning examination late next year.

Telling the project’s officials it would be “reckless” for them not to consider that the St James’s site could also be rejected, Mr Fleming queried whether any safeguards are in place to ensure at least some of the €32m spend on the new site can be clawed back if needed.

Mr Pollock said this is not possible as the contractors involved are “paid based on what’s provided.”

“They’re going to be paid the same amount of money if they put in a shoddy application. We could be looking at €72m spent before we get to the next planning stage,” Mr Fleming said.

The development stage of the new St James’s Hospital site was launched by Health Minister Leo Varadkar in September, with the facility due to treat patients by 2019.

The new children’s hospital is being developed by BDP Architects and is sub-contracted to its Irish partners, O’Connell Mahon — the latter of whom was involved with the Mater project.

Officials behind the latest attempt to build the major facility said they are confident it will not face the same planning problems as the Mater site, as the St James’s location offers enough space and will comply with Dublin city council planning rules.

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